America’s Foes Call Obama’s Bluff

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


Obama, Kerry and Hagel thought that they had a plan for putting North Korea back in the box. North Korea had conducted a nuclear test in February, violating once again the various understandings that had been worked out. But agreements and understandings, written or oral, had never meant much to the repressive regime which had suspended the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War numerous times—including last month.

So Obama decided to wave a stick. The playbook for North Korea would feature flights by B-2 and B-52 bombers and F-22 fighter jets to remind the North Korean military that it was no match for Uncle Sam.

A month after Obama’s victory, Park Geun Hye of the Grand National Party had won South Korea’s presidential election. The Grand National Party is conservative and Hye’s mother was murdered by a North Korean assassin. Hye ran on a platform of conciliation, but her rhetoric of peace was wrapped in a concise message that warned North Korea that if it attacked then it would be made to “suffer the costs of provocation.”

Two weeks before her inauguration, North Korea carried out its underground nuclear test sending the region into a panic. The timing was almost certainly deliberate. For her inauguration, the first female president of South Korea wore an olive green jacket with gold buttons that had a distinctly military look to it and her message to North Korea warned that its nuclear ambitions would turn it into its own biggest victim. The quote had the perfect sort of ambiguity that could be read as empathy in the West and a threat in the East.

Hye’s victory neatly matched up with Abe’s victory in Japan. Both South Korea and Japan were under the leadership of conservative governments. Hye was the daughter of her country’s former military dictator. Abe had spoken of rebuilding Japan’s military into a force to be reckoned with. On the other side of the board, China had turned toward its own hard line leadership.

Obama’s pivot to Asia was a belated recognition that a power vacuum had formed and was being filled by growing militarization on all sides.

Japan and South Korea had little confidence that the United States could continue to maintain stability. China was shoving the United States out of the way and blatantly threatening traditional American allies like the Republic of the Philippines. And North Korea was pushing every red line that could be imagined.

Toward the end of January, North Korea declared that its nuclear program was aimed at America. The era of ambiguity was over. North Korea was defining itself as a nuclear power in a new MAD stalemate.

And so the playbook began to unroll. The joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States were supposed to demonstrate that the two countries together could easily defeat the north. But the exercises were a bluff. A demonstration that no one could take seriously. North Korea certainly did not. Instead it called Obama’s bluff by playing a game of nuclear chicken, raising the stakes and the rhetoric.

Obama blinked. The United States put the playbook on hold, cancelled a missile test and began clumsily urging everyone to tone down the rhetoric to avoid a war. The game of chicken had ended with Obama, Kerry and Hagel squawking in a corner.

The trouble with a bluff is that it only works if the other side believes that you aren’t bluffing. And no one believes that Obama would be willing to commit to the use of force in North Korea in any scenario short of a surprise attack. North Korea knows it. So do China, Japan and South Korea. The grand pivot to Asia was an empty gesture with no substance.

After the Taliban had cleaned Obama’s clock, his empty posturing was not likely to impress the ruling elite of a totalitarian state with nuclear capabilities and a willingness to murder uncounted numbers of its own people in horrifying ways.

Obama’s first and biggest bluff took place in Afghanistan. His Surge was supposed to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and make a peaceful withdrawal feasible. Instead large numbers of American lives were thrown away in a limited surge with a timeline. A bluff that failed to work. And that failure set the stage for all the failed bluffs to come.

Obama had gambled on his ability to win over Afghans by reducing air strikes and narrowly constraining the ability of American soldiers to defend themselves, as well as the willingness of the Taliban to come to any agreement with an enemy that they were being paid by Iran and wealthy Gulf oil tycoons to fight.

It wasn’t the last time that Obama would gamble on a bluff and lose. In Syria, Obama is still betting that a few warnings and officially unofficial support for the opposition will force Assad to step down. It hasn’t worked yet and it won’t work. Obama made the same bet in Libya and Gaddafi called his bluff forcing him to engage in an extended bombing campaign to destroy Libyan forces. And when that was done, the victory prize was a burning diplomatic mission and a dead ambassador.

In Iran, Obama has likewise been bluffing with no ace up his sleeve. Libya made it clear that the only way that the White House will commit to a military operation is if the risk is minimal. Obama’s smaller-and-smarter strategy took armed force off the table against any state with a strong enough military and made his bluffs preemptively worthless.

And that left Syria, North Korea and Iran free to do as they pleased.

Obama is stuck with no options between sanctions and military intervention. And once sanctions have been employed, there is nothing left except to sit and wait for a surrender that will never come. It’s not a problem unique to Obama; Bill Clinton and George W. Bush found themselves facing it with Saddam Hussein. But the difference is that they could credibly bluff. Obama can’t.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry mumbled something about refusing to accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

“The United States will do what is necessary to defend ourselves and defend our allies, Korea and Japan, “ Kerry said at a joint press conference with the South Korean foreign minister. “We are fully prepared and capable of doing so, and I think the DPRK understands that.”

But that’s exactly the trouble. North Korea doesn’t understand it. Not when its threats were followed by feverish attempts at retreat from Obama Inc.

President Theodore Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Instead Obama speaks loudly and carries a toothpick. Obama and Kerry bluster and then punk out when their bluff is called. Obama’s foreign policy of empty threats and incompetent policies has ushered in a Post-American world order.

Asia has lost faith in American stability. Eastern Europe is learning the same lesson. And the Middle East learned it years ago. Whatever happens with North Korea is no longer up to Obama. Just as the UK and France made all the important decisions in Libya and Syria, the North Korean crisis is in Japan and South Korea’s hands.

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  • UCSPanther

    I didn't know the North Koreans were still using ZB 26 clones to this day..

    Goes to show how outdated their army is. The sad part: North Korean conscripts are fed propaganda that they are invincible, but in a pitched battle with South Korean and American forces, they would learn the hard way about how outclassed they are, and it would be the death of a lot of North Korean soldiers.

    • Steeloak

      Those are Type 73 Light Machineguns, based on 1960's Soviet PK designs & Czech Vz.52, but heavily modified. They are unique to North Korea and manufactured domestically. http://world.guns.ru/machine/nkor/type-73-machine

      • arnold

        you really got every thing backwards.are you stupid or a devi in disguise?? what planet are you on??

        • Rifleman

          What is this guy talking about? I think he replied to the wrong post, and he's calling others stupid…

        • tagalog

          He's on Earth; where are you?

        • Brian

          Arnold explain how we got everything backwards. BTW I am from the planet Earth. Did you ever hear of it?

      • UCSPanther

        You learn something new every day…

    • kafir4life

      You hit the nail on the head as to why they are still so dangerous. "They are fed". I would think their families are fed too. The alternative for them is less desirable.

    • tagalog

      You guys are both one up on me. I thought from the position and shape of the magazine that it was a Bren.

      Looking at the pics on the net, I think Steeloak is right; North Korean Type 73 LMG. The Czech influence would explain the resemblance to the Bren. That mag well protector latch seems like a fairly neat touch.

      • UCSPanther

        The Chinese did use a number of Czech weapons back in the day, so it can be easily seen as how the North Koreans could have gotten some schematics.

    • S Carter

      Obama is so hated in the US military, and rightly so, that there's little inclination to 'win' in any military conflict. And really, after any victory Obozo would strut & preen & posture in his usual vomitworthy manner. Why win with such a socialist transsexual hag as the Whore-in-Chief? … And Amerika voted for this loser?!

    • mlcblog

      outclassed until China steps in

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    It is beyond dispute, the precursors to WW 3 have been set up, and all of the POTUS's "miscalculations" are its pointers – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/04/07/the-potuss-mi

    None of the above is happenstance. It is part of the "reordering" of world powers, and the leader of the heretofore free world is deeply in the mix.

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • tagalog

      I doubt that it's that organized. The history of our current President suggests that if World War 3 breaks out, it will be the result of a series of blunders.

      Like World War I. Except the blunders will be Obama blunders, not European ones.

      • Drakken

        I think you correctly called it. Obummer and his physophants will make a lot more blunders and then like everything else in this administration they will be surprised that it didn't work because they were nice about it.

  • cedarhill

    China obviously green lighted N.K. and is watching while Asia is reminded of the Great Obama Telepromter hides a real paper tiger.

    However. Obama has the third way. Buying N.K. off. That noise you hear in the background is Ben's Helicopter stuffed with foreign aid. Note the US dropped it's payoffs starting in 2010. So what better solution for China and N.K. than to ramp up things and show the paper tiger while getting millions or billions for N.K. Actually doubly helps China.

  • kafir4life

    President Stinky (bo) is a coward. A cowardly child. He won't even face reporters in his own country!! He's a cowardly little boy, and the entire planet (except for his base) knows it.

    Stinky and Kim actually are quite a bit alike. They reward their friends, punish their enemies. Kim uses food as a bludgeon, President Stinky uses food stamps. President Stinky is garbage.

  • pierce

    Stinky and Kim are very much alike. They are both bluster. Neither is very good for the world's stage. It is most unfortunate that Stinky was reelected POTUS last November, for now we are seeing the real Barack Hussein Obama, and I do believe he is losing control. He is starting to act like a little boy by throwing a tantrum.

    At the very least, he still has John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, to help him. Ho Ho Ho.

  • Don L

    What we might be watching right now is the failure of Harry Truman to let Douglas MacArthur pursue the Korean war back into China. It seems that dictators (bullies) never learn humility until they are humiliated The leftist Godless communists, particularly the Asian brand, can't begin to comprehend anyone ever having the upper hand militarily and not using it when they have the advantage–hence- the dangerous game of appearing as paper tigers only invites dangerous ventures to test our will–just as a two year old will test his mother's patience to find who really is the authority in the house.

  • davarino

    I am so glad Obama isnt like that cowboy George Bush. You have to talk nice to bullies and then they will be nice.

    What is it they say about "nice guys"? No, the bad guys are taking advantage of Mr. Nice Guy and see an opportunity to wreak havoc in the world.

    Now the question is whether or not Mr. Nice Guy is niave, or he knows exactlly what he is doing.

  • Western Spirit

    This is why a nuclear attack is coming this, and quite a few other reasons. For instance we have no real leadership in Washington. All we have is just someone following a dead man's instructions on how to socialize America.

    We're in big trouble from the blindness of at least half the population winning the last election. When the blind lead the blind they both end up in a ditch. That's a paraphrase of course.

    This why the unthinkable is going to happen. Not if but when.

    • watsa46

      They are not blind. They care about their own "needs" and careless about anyone else. One could say the same about the rich. The G7 and G20 deliberately kept tax free areas for their own benefits while denying U & me these benefits.

  • Sky Soldier

    NoKorea has a lunatic leader and America has an illegitimate president with no leadership experience of any kind. Sounds like two little playground bullies thumping their chests. America deserves better.

  • watsa46

    US send clear message to N-K, China, Russia and most importantly Iran. A universalist surrounded by universalists. Naivete may lead to catastrophe if power is not preserved.

  • mlcblog

    I am fascinated with what I am hearing from the new voice (to me) of Mike Baker, former CIA, on this. He lines it all up with our activity in Syria and the Middle East and shows the equation in the standoff, otherwise perceived as North Korean saber-rattling because the young dictator has to prove himself. I can hardly wait to read this article (gotta work), as I see references to the mid east here, too. It makes more sense this way.

  • ross1948

    It's not only re Korea that chickens come home to roost! http://rossrightangle.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/an

  • Randy CA

    "Don't call my bluff." Obama 7/13/11 (Yeah, the guy actually said that.)

    • Raymond in DC

      In discussing the ongoing confrontation with Iran, I've frequently suggested that Iran is playing Chess, while the US is playing Poker. Iran has clear long-term objectives – driving the US out of the Persian Gulf, establishing Iran as the regional super-power, ending the "Zionist regime" (aka Israel), and of course advancing the Shiite revolution. Much of what they do is clearly intended to advance that agenda – funding troops to fight US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, building cells in Africa and Latin America, building up Hizbullah as a proxy force, the missile and nuclear projects, etc.

      North Koreas's objectives don' seem so grandiose, with regime survival being the most obvious objective. WMDs are key to that, and they'll work with the most nefarious regimes – Iran, Pakistan, and Syria – to advance such projects.

      But what are the US' objectives? Well, umm, something about stability, advancing US interests (which aren't self-evident), and (for the current team) being on the "right side of history". Given such a muddle, we tend to be reactive and don't have much of a plan. Crisis? Do something! Threat? Threaten back, but not too loudly, as you might make them mad. If your bluff is called, fold. There's always another hand to play, right?

  • Goemon

    Obama is radical left. Radical left. Loves chaos and human suffering. Don't you understand Obama wants NK to be bold and violent? If you don't get that…

  • brianrichardallen

    Since — and including — 1945, the envy-incited, rage and hatred-driven and by-any-other-word, treasonous, "Democrats," have never met a won war whose peace they haven't sabotaged!

  • Mikey De

    Light weights like Obama and Hagel, Kerry and Hilary are in over their heads in Asia. After the Taliban handed his head to him in Afganistan he is going to baffle the Asian Communists with more of his brand of community organization BS, I don't think so..

  • defcon 4

    I imagine China wouldn't be too happy if N. Korea were to attack its greatest debtor nation. I'd imagine the PRC could roll up N. Korea in about a week.

  • brianrichardallen

    …. I imagine Peking's perilously-pernicious self-appointed and self-perpetuating predator pack (that so grandiosely calls itself "china") wouldn't be too happy if Nork's dorks were to attack the Earth's greatest benefactor nation ….

    As the rather relevantly named retarded Richard Dawkins uses his pseudo "science" to hide his zealously-anti-Christian bigotry, so do Peking's predators use their vapidly-vexatious vassal, Norkorea, to hide their own pathologically-hesperophobic barbaric bloody belligerence and to do much of their anti-American dirty work.

  • dannyjeffrey44

    This is the first that I have written about the North Korean problem. I have read many opinions as to what is taking place and cannot help but feel that come up short of the real story. This is my interpretation. http://www.freedomrings1776.com/2013/04/war-and-r